In the 10th of our Backyard Explorer travel series: Jim Kayes marvels at the birdlife on Tiritiri Matangi Island and takes in spectacular views of Auckland – for a hefty price.

“You should have been camera-ready,” my wife gently admonished me. “Instead, you were being silly and trying to scare me.”

She’s right. Walking down the Wattle Track on Tiritiri Matangi Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, I’d pretended to hide behind a small branch as she came around the corner.

But two plump kererū flew onto a branch beside me, one turned and looked at me, then they flew off, low and along the path, forcing my wife to duck.

I had been trying to snap a photo of them in flight since we’d arrived on this treasure trove of birds and trees, and here they were right beside me.

Obviously I didn’t get the photo!

But our intrepid correspondent did manage to snap this sedentary kererū. Photo: Jim Kayes

There are 71 different birds on the island including the rare takahē and kororā – with one of the little blue penguins nesting in a shelter built for them on the path from the wharf to Hobbs Beach.

I’m no ornithologist but I think we heard, and sometimes saw, plenty of saddlebacks (tīeke), hihi (stitchbird) and bellbirds (korimako), and I know we saw and heard lots of tūī and the chubby woodpigeons.

As much as I adore the tūī, is there a cooler bird sound than a kererū in flight?

There’s also some amazing bush and some very old trees with a couple of the pōhutukawa thought to be 1000 years old.  

A flash of Christmas red at Pohutukawa Cove. Photo: Jim Kayes

Tiritiri Matangi is a short 20-minute ferry ride from Auckland’s Gulf Harbour, and a longer trip from the city as the ferry comes to Whangaparāoa Peninsula before heading to the island.

Its Māori name means ‘tossed by the wind’ and it was blowing when we arrived but remarkably still as we wandered the island.

It attracts about 30,000 visitors a year with the number capped at 32,000. There were 192 of us on the ferry, seven shy of its limit. That’s worth noting because it’s a slightly extortionate cost to get to the island.

I’d been planning on going to Rangitoto because it sits so proudly in Auckland’s harbour as a backdrop to my travels around the city.

Views from around the island are spectacular. Photo: Jim Kayes

But I’ve been there before and had not visited Tiri – as it’s often called – and wanted to do something Auckland-centric as not everyone leaves the city during summer.

An adult return fare from Auckland to Rangitoto is $39 and a child $19.50. The trip takes about 25 minutes according to the Fullers website.

A trip from Auckland to Tiri is $82 for an adult and $50 for a child – and it’s the same price from Gulf Harbour where the trip takes 20 minutes!  We paid $230 for a family pass (two adults and two children).

At this price Tiri is not accessible to many Aucklanders, and that is a huge pity.

The lighthouse has been operational since 1864 and the signal tower since 1912. Photo: Jim Kayes

Hopefully Fullers give some of that money to the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi who have done an incredible job in building the tracks that lace the island.

They are regularly dotted with information posts and there are volunteers, who are wonderful sources of information, on the ferry, in the shop, and up the Signal Tower.

The tower sits beside the lighthouse which has been in use since it was built toward the southern end of the island in 1864.

The view from there, out toward Coromandel, Auckland’s eastern beaches and around to the CBD, is spectacular and reminiscent of the superb view from the treaty grounds at Waitangi.

There are a few options for walking the island (including guided walks for an extra $10) and we chose to head up the Kawerau Track, briefly onto the Ridge Track, but then diverting to the East Coast Track, back to the ridge and up to the lighthouse for lunch.

It’s easy-going, with the path well-constructed and maintained, and there is plenty to see and listen to.

We covered 7km, walking the well-maintained tracks through some beautiful bush to a chorus of bird song. Photo: Jim Kayes

We had two 14-year-olds in tow, our daughter and niece, and they loved it, having a snooze in the sun by the lighthouse and a swim at Hobbs Beach before we caught the ferry home.

At a time when we can’t travel overseas, places like Tiritiri Matangi (and there are so many others like this) are a real ‘must-do’ activity.

There are lots of options that are free, or not too pricey, with regional parks dotted across the country.

And if there is something I’ve learnt over the two months travelling and writing about it for and Canon, it’s that our tourism hotspots are deathly quiet Monday-Friday and not overly busy on the weekends.

So get out there and visit your backyard.

But equally, some places (and Queenstown was by far the worst) need a Kiwi reality check.

We don’t have the cash that visitors from Europe, Asia, Canada and the USA have. So some businesses need to adjust their prices (and some already have).

I’m not suggesting they rip themselves off, but neither should they rip off Kiwis, not if they want our support.

Getting there: has trips to Tiritiri Matangi, Waiheke and Rangitoto, and to Coromandel

Auckland has 27 regional parks open to the public:

For more on Tiritiri Matangi:

This series is created in association with Canon

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